History of Woodbridge Catholic Church
Fr Bill Jolly, who lived in retirement in Woodbridge for some years before he died in 1982, always hoped it would be possible to bring out a History of the Church in Woodbridge. Now through the kindness of Miss Barbara Pratt who has so generously given of her time, this history is available to all who are interested. The following is as extract from the book:
THERE was a great deal of local interest when, in January 1929, the Diocese of Northampton negotiated for the purchase of the old public hall in St. John’s Street, Woodbridge. Many Woodbridge adults and children had performed in concerts there or visited it to attend lectures or art exhibitions. Father Shebbeare had held an exhibition there of his water-colour and heraldic paintings. The Industrial and Art Exhibition of 1883 and 1887 attracted entries from the nuns at Ipswich and from children age 8 at their orphanage who had knitted a counterpane.
Mr. George Arnott wrote: “In 1843 the whole of the area around St. John’s Street and the site of St. Thomas’s Church was open country known as Pye’s Close. In May 1843, 211 plots of land suitable for private residences were laid out for sale by auction. In 1850 a committee was formed to raise money by private donation and though the issue of £5 shares to purchase three plots, already partly built upon, to convert into a public hall which was called at first The Temperance and Lecture Hall and Committee Room, but which later became known simply as The Lecture Hall and Mechanics Institute (the latter was established in Woodbridge in 1837). Later the Y.M.C.A. took over but eventually the usefulness of the building declined and it was sold to the Catholic Church.
In April 1929 the purchase was completed for the sum of £1,200. After a year’s work it was transformed at a cost of £2,000 into a classical church. The architect of these works was Arnold Crush, F.R.I.B.A., of Birmingham, a Catholic convert. The main feature was the Sanctuary which had a baldacchino supported by four Corinthian columns.
The papal heraldic achievement on the front of the pediment is that of His Holiness Pope Pius XI. A nun from the Carmelite Convent in Woodbridge, Mother Margaret of the Mother of God, lettered the baldacchino, “Altare Privilegiatum” and Mother Rosario painted a picture of St. Jude for the new church. Red tapestry curtains formed a backcloth to the High Altar.
On one side of the High Altar was a small altar on which stood the statue of Our Lady which had been in the earlier church in Crown Place. On the other side a small altar bore a modern statue of the Sacred Heart, collected for by the congregation. There was a small shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and to St. Thomas of Canterbury and a statue of St. Joseph. There was also a sacristy, flower room and club room. The floors were of oak strip on hollow construction. A choir gallery was built above the porch. When Bishop Carey-Elwes died in 1932, a small organ gallery was erected as a memorial to him. The exterior of the building is of white London brick with stone dressings. It is now a Grade II listed building.
Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church on 8th March, 1930, the feast of St. Felix, after a simple blessing by Father Shebbeare. The solemn opening of the church took place in July 1930 on the feast of the Translation of St. Thomas of Canterbury. On Saturday 5th July Father Shebbeare was delegated by Bishop Carey-Elwes to perform the Rite of Blessing of a new church. On Sunday the bishop celebrated Mass in the Carmelite Convent and later performed the ceremony of the Clothing of a nun. He gave Benediction during which Father Ronald Knox preached the sermon. Later that evening he Confirmed 24 candidates in the new church: nine of them were converts. He gave Solemn Pontifical Benediction.
On Monday, 7th July there was Solemn High Mass in the presence of the bishop. It was celebrated by Monsignor Duchemin who came from the Beda College, Rome, where he was the Rector. The choir was from Westminster Cathedral and was conducted by Dom Alphege Shebbeare. Father Knox preached again. His theme was that the existence of the Catholic Church was a challenge - not to quarrel with our neighbours but to think and to learn deeper truth of a fuller life. Catholics should walk worthily and edify their neighbours by sticking close to one another. If the world had to be turned upside-down then they must stand upright, with the Parish Priest in the centre as the keystone and the others bound to him with the mortar of charity.
After Mass lunch was served at the Crown Assembly Rooms. The celebrations concluded with an afternoon garden party at Bredfield House, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lachlan White.